Before I start, because this won’t be too long, a few pieces of news in case you haven’t heard:
1. Last week, Simon Singh was given permission to appeal against the ruling on meaning in the case against the British Chiropractic Association. That means David Eady’s ruling on the meaning of the word ‘bogus’ might not stand. In a stunning display of stupidity, the BCA also accused Singh of attacking them maliciously on their website, which gives him the option of countersuing, which inimitable law expert Jack of Kent reckons will bring the case to an end. I hope that doesn’t happen except as a last resort. As always, check out Jack of Kent’s blog for more information.
3. Last week the Daily Mail published a disgusting column by Jan Moir on the death of Steven Gately, which drew links between his homosexuality, his lifestyle, his death and the deaths of other gay celebrities, saying there was nothing natural about his death (I mean it can’t possibly have been, after all he was gay), even though that’s exactly what the coroner has found. Fortunately the British public aren’t as homophobic as she is, and a record number of over 22,000 people have complained to the press complaints commission about the article. We’ll see what comes of it.
Anyway onto the issue. Last Thursday the BBC’s Question Time, a show during which members of the public can put questions to member of a panel including public figures like politicians, featured Nick Griffin, the racist and homophobic leader of the British Nationalist Party. I’m not in the UK so I couldn’t watch it live on the web, having to rely on Youtube the next afternoon to find out how it went.
I understand from discussions in forums that there has been a fair bit of controversy over whether the BBC should have allowed Griffin to appear in the show. There have been protests outside BBC headquarters, and the main claim is that it gives a platform to extremist and offensive views, and may lead to a further rise in popularity for the BNP.
This question was brought up at the end of the show, and the opinion of some of the panelists was that in our democracy we enjoy freedom of speech and under that freedom, the BNP has a right to express its opinions and the BBC has the right to broadcast them. I agree. The thing about freedom of speech is that you can’t just choose what kinds of opinions can be expressed, you have to include things that the majority might find offensive. Otherwise it would just be a tyranny of the majority. Just as the BNP has a right to their opinions I have a right to point out why they are wrong and express my opinion too.
But of course it’s not that simple. Mainstream media outlets have to realise that they have a wide audience and they have to take responsibility for what they broadcast or publish, especially when some things are put across as fact or as a voice of authority. This is one of the reasons why I objected to Jan Moir’s article above, she claims that there was nothing natural about the death when there was, and her frankly disgusting views were given a veneer of respectability by their prominent position on the pages of a mainstream newspaper. It’s not good enough.
So, does that mean I don’t think the BBC should have allowed the BNP on TV? No. The show pulled no punches; where someone tried to chat shit or avoid the question, they were pulled up on it, whether it was that Tory with the weird accent, Jack Straw, or Nick Griffin. Admittedly it was Griffin more than anyone else, but that’s just because his views are so extreme, they needed pulling up more often than anyone else. That’s one of the reasons why I think his complaint that they changed the format will fail. The format consists of questions posed by the public. Clearly the public wanted to challenge Griffin on his views. Planting other questions on the postal strike against what the majority wanted to focus on would have been changing the format, so he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He was shown to be the racist homophobic fool he is, despite his attempts to lie to the audience, so the BBC did not give his voice respectability and neither did they allow him to present his lies as facts. In that sense, I think they were quite responsible in their broadcasting.